Sunday, September 13, 2009

Prejudice and other unpleasant surprises

I was not expecting to be hit by a car. I was not expecting anything at the moment, I suppose. I was driving home, just making my way through one of those immense parking lots that sprawl in all directions, and are always mostly empty.

There was a line of cars parked in the fire lane, and I drove around them. As I did so, the truck pulled out, into the passenger side of the car. My neck was whipped around, and all I could do was utter the words " Oh no, not again." This was not the first car accident for me, and the specter of months in rehab for my already injured back and neck flashed through my head.

I pulled into a parking spot, afraid the truck that had hit me would just drive away. But no, the vehicle pulled up just a few spaces down from me. And that was when I noticed that the driver was Hispanic. It was only much later that I had a chance to think about the upwelling of anger and blame that came into my mind, visions of illegal drivers without insurance, angry men yelling at me, no one believing me. I was frightened, and shaken up, but all my fear and angry were directed at the poor man who had run into me. And, part of it was because he was Hispanic.

Typing this, I'm aware of how it sounds. It sounds awful. It doesn't sound like how I would like to think of myself. It sounds like racism.

But I, mindful of how I was treated the time I accidentally ran into a woman's car, was polite. I may have been a bit short, and insist on calling the insurance companies, as we stood there is the blazing sun, but I tried not to make what had happened worse.

I did the best I could.

The gentleman could not speak English, and my Spanish is almost nonexistent. His daughter translated for us both. There was no screaming, or recriminations. Mr. Martinez (not his real name, of course) was terribly polite, admitted it was his fault, and inquired into my health. He promised that he would pay for the damage out of pocket, if the insurance company would not cover it. We shook hands as we parted, and I continued my drive home.

As I drove, I began to think of how surprised I was at his actions and kindness to a complete stranger, who he may have sensed was upset with him. I found myself thinking that for a Hispanic - I caught myself. It was only then that I started to think about my instinctive reaction, anger, and fear. I cried, both from the events of the past hour, and from the realization that, despite a liberal background, and a host of classes on just this sort of thing in college, I was a racist.

I had made judgments about Mr. Martinez from the moment I saw him, and was amazed when they were proven wrong. I can't do much about my reaction then, but I owe Mr. Martinez an apology. And I owe it to myself to be aware of people as people, rather than react to their ethnic background.

So, now, in addition to my apology, a thank you: Thank you Mr Martinez, for being a wonderful person yesterday after you hit my car.


I. Mazzikin said...

I have to admit feeling about the same way when the F-250 backed into Faust. It was a Hispanic fellow with his family in tow. He offered me financial compensation right there, and briefly insisted that we should not call the police or notify insurance companies. I held out on both of those, and he was fairly gracious even though I had refused him. Of course, it might have been a bit because my car was blocking his way out. Not sure. I don't recall if I had any specifically racial feelings about him. I know I was irritated with him and suspicious of him, but I am usually that way when someone hits my I think they will try to wiggle out of it.

Okay, that had no point. I'm sorry you had this moment, but look at it this way: you can learn from it and do better in the future. You're not any less of a wonderful person!

Aunt Becky said...

What amazes me is how out of the blue it always seems. It seems so dumb later on when you retell that stuff:

"there I was, sitting on the couch, and I got the phone call. My dad had had a heart attack."

Like, OUT OF THE BLUE. I wasn't expecting it!! And it sounds dumb, but it's like a bolt of lighting out of the clear blue sky, right? Wild.

shadowedge said...

Hi Aunt Becky!

Thanks for stopping by. And yeah... out of the blue, indeed.